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The peace process industry keeps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict running

At an April conference in Washington DC held by the Middle East Policy Council, University of Pennsylvania-based political scientist Professor Ian Lustick had some strong criticism for what he described as “the continuous merry-go-round of American-orchestrated negotiations”.

After analysing the interests and roles played by, respectively, the Israeli government, the US government, and the Palestinian Authority, Lustick turned his attention to a “fourth player” – what he called “the peace process industry”.

This industry, according to Lustick, is made up of “legions of pundits, scholars, commentators, funders and conference organisers”, whose “speculations, warnings, maps and advice fill the newspapers, blogging sites and airwaves”.

In particular, Lustick highlighted the role of this industry’s “two-state solution proponents”, who, “given the choice between a vanishingly small chance of success and having to develop and adapt an entirely new framework for pursuing values of justice, peace and equality and democracy in this domain, they prefer continuing the fight”.

He added: “It is far easier to raise funds, preserve institutions and promote careers by describing a closing window of opportunity for two states than to ever admit that in fact a window is closed.”

The result is that “both protagonists and observers [are discouraged] from thinking beyond the outworn categories of two states to imagine other possibilities”.

Sample study

This peace process industry hides in plain sight. Its members maintain a high-profile public presence, but one whose role and influence is framed as independent and technocratic.

Let’s take a look at some examples. In five pieces published over three weeks in May by The Washington PostThe Christian Science MonitorPoliticoCNN and Reuters, 16 regional analysts were cited on 22 occasions.

Dennis Ross and David Makovsky were both cited in three of the five articles – the pair are colleagues at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Career diplomat Aaron David Miller and former US envoy to Israel Dan Shapiro were quoted in two of the five pieces.

Together, Ross, Makovsky, Miller and Shapiro constituted almost half of the total 22 expert contributions.

Other analysts cited include Ronald Reagan and George W Bush-era official Elliott Abrams, veteran US diplomat and expert Martin Indyk, and former Israeli military and diplomatic figures like Gilead Sher and Amnon Reshef. Of the 22 times that an expert was quoted, only three were Palestinian: Jibril Rajoub, Hanan Ashrawi (the sole woman of the 22), and Hani al-Masri.

Taking these five articles as a whole, written in the context of President Donald Trump’s Middle East tour, we notice the following:

First, Palestinian voices are marginalised, or sometimes absent entirely; second, readers are not informed of the analysts’ own personal views; and third, many are commenting on a “peace process” in which they themselves have been (unsuccessful) participants.

Makovsky (a US-Israeli dual national), for example, worked as senior advisor to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under secretary of state John Kerry. That special envoy was Martin Indyk, who took a break from Brookings to take up the role, before returning in 2014. Ross, too, is a former US negotiator (albeit one who believes “we need to be advocates for Israel”).

‘The most spectacular deception’

This revolving door between think-tanks and government is a key element in sustaining the tired approaches and bankrupt frameworks that have helped keep the Palestinians occupied, colonised and dispossessed – at no significant cost to Israel with respect to consequences or sanctions.

The structure of the peace process imposes “mutual obligations” of “both sides” – Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) – despite the fact that the former is a powerful, occupying state, and the latter is an interim, autonomous entity for the occupied population.

The peace process industry experts play a key role in talking up or echoing the latest demands of the PA fashioned by Israel the US or others, whether it’s “reform” of security services or financial institutions, or ending “incitement” in the media and the education system.

In turn, Israel is urged to adopt tokenistic gestures such as economic “confidence-building measures”, issue more work permits to enter the pre-1967 lines, or lift some of the restrictions on Palestinians’ usage of territory in “Area C” of the West Bank.

Writing a decade ago in the London Review of Books, Henry Siegman described “the Middle East peace process” as possibly “the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history.” Last month, writing in The New York Times, former Palestinian negotiator Diana Buttu excoriated a peace process that has produced “no progress” after “more than two decades.” She continued:

I spent several years involved on the Palestinian side of the negotiations and can attest to their futility…When we spoke of international law and the illegality of settlements, Israeli negotiators laughed in our faces. Power is everything, they would say, and you have none.

During a recent seminar at Queen Mary University London, Palestinian author and academic Ghada Karmi told attendees: “We must stop talking about Palestine, and do something about Israel.”

Such a course of action is unlikely, however, so long as the “peace process” merry-go-round continues, ably assisted by its industry of experts, providing Israel cover for permanently-temporary occupation.

Published first by Middle East Eye.

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